I’ve been biting my tongue the past few weeks while being told repeatedly not only by the TeeVee Talking Heads (who do little but spew Conventional Wisdom) but also by most of the independent political bloggers whom I respect, that Newt Gingrich’s campaign to snag the Republican nomination is over and done with. Looking at the Iowa results, I still can’t see that.
Here’s my own fast-n-loose assessment of what went down last night, and yet more shameless speculation about "what it all means" going forward:
The Actual Results
Mitt Romney edged out Rick Santorum by a mere eight votes to take “First Place.” I suppose that might have meant something when Iowa was still a winner-take-all delegate state, but this no longer is the case. Basically, Mittens tied with L’il Ricky. In fact, with Ron Paul taking 21.4% of the vote last night was basically a three-way tie for “First Place.”
Newt took fourth (or second or third, depending on whether you consider first place to be a two- or a three-way tie) with 13.3% of the vote, followed by Rick Perry with 10.3% of the vote (actually, fairly close here too; I suppose one could say they tied for second).
The Girl With the Faraway Eyes came in a distant sixth (or, etc., etc.) with just 5.0% of the vote, and Jon Huntsman – who has ignored the state to concentrate instead on New Hampshire – barely showed with 0.6% of the vote.
Impact Going Forward
My theory as to why Newt ultimately wins the nomination is that he will eventually prove to be the candidate around whom all the Not-Mitt-Romney base voters rally. And I think it is pretty clear that Newt knows this.
Newt also knows that – no matter how much Rick “Frothy” Santorum is the flavor (eeewwwww!) of the week right now – L’il Ricky is not going to be the Republican nominee. Santorum spent nearly the entirety of 2011 campaigning in Iowa only, he has no base of support outside of the party’s Religious Right and will almost certainly do terrible in upcoming states New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida. Santorum needed a win in Iowa to retain his personal credibility (he is, after all, a highly paid Faux News Talking Head), and he got that. I don’t see any kind of credible argument that he can go forward much beyond last night, although with the Iowa win his zombie campaign will lurch forward anyway.
And, as Jed Lewison puts it, “Gingrich’s survival speech boiled down to: ‘I’m going to tear down Mitt Romney and Ron Paul, but Rick Santorum is a pretty good guy.’” In other words, Newt already is campaigning to pick up Santorum’s supporters.
After last night, Rick Perry – whose claim to fame until now had been that he never had lost an election – already has announced that he is thinking of dropping out of the race. And why wouldn’t he? Rick Perry spent far and away more money last night (about $817 per vote) than any other candidate only to end up with a disappointing 10% of the turnout. The homophobic YouTube ad he released last month is the second-most “disliked” YouTube video in history and has spawned numerous parodies:
And Rick Perry has been revealed to the entire nation to be a bumbling fool. Why wouldn’t he want to go back home, where nobody bothers to pay attention to the actual words coming out of Governor Goodhair’s mouth?
And La Bachmann is just as doomed. Michele Bachmann pinned her entire strategy on doing well in the Iowa caucuses. She campaigned in Iowa relentlessly, never stopped identifying herself as a hometown girl, and even announced her candidacy in Iowa. Of course, it didn’t help when she also asserted that she – like John Wayne – was from Waterloo, Iowa and that “that’s the kind of spirit I have too!” . . . only to learn that it was notorious child rapist and serial killer John Wayne Gacy – and not the famous actor – who was from Waterloo.)
Like Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann just does not have a game outside of Iowa and her humiliating 5% vote result basically dooms her campaign going forward. Whether she recognizes this or not – last night she vowed to remain in the race – the professionals she has hired to run her campaign know it. Shortly before Bachmann made that vow her campaign manager admitted to the Associated Press that he just didn’t know whether Bachmann would stay in the race after Iowa.
Both Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann were early anti-Romneys who held the spotlight for a while – what are the odds their supporters decide that, with their favorite candidates out of the race, they should just hold their noses and vote for Romney anyway?
So that’s where things stand. Perry is almost certainly out of the race, and my sense is that most of his supporters will in turn flock to Newt Gingrich. Bachmann and Santorum will be out of the race, and my sense is that their supporters will do the same – as mentioned, Newt already is wooing Santorum’s people.
Misc.: Ron Paul is not going to snag the nomination either, but this is his last race and I don’t envision him ever pulling out; his voters seem so devoted to him, personally, that I doubt they’ll vote for anybody else on the ballot even after it becomes clear that Paul has absolutely no chance of winning the nomination. Perhaps they’ll be hoping for a brokered convention that will turn Paul into the “kingmaker.”
Jon Huntsman has been a non-entity all along, who has staked his entire campaign on grinding out a better-than-expected finish in New Hampshire – Mitt’s home state (kinda) and where Romney has been campaigning continuously for five straight years. If Huntsman had any supporters, I would expect them to swing over to Mittens.
And I think the 58 people last night who voted for Herman Cain will continue to vote for Herman Cain because they are clearly crazy.
I simply do not see how Newt Gingrich doesn’t pick up and consolidate almost all the Not-Mitt-Romney votes available in the Republican primary. My guess is that we’re going to go through the New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada primaries/caucuses (the last on February 4th) and after that we’ll basically just be looking at March 6th’s “Super Tuesday.” I’ll go ahead and guess that Rick Perry basically announces he’s withdrawing from the race this week or, at the least, immediately after New Hampshire, that Santorum – buoyed by his Iowa victory – will wait until after Nevada to drop out, and that Bachmann – buoyed by her insanity – will also wait until after Nevada to drop out.
I stand by my earlier prediction that – for their own political interests – if Santorum and Bachmann endorse anybody they will endorse Gingrich. (Rick Perry is more of a stretch; I think he may be interested enough in rehabilitating his image in front of the GOP machine as a useful tool to keep the Republican rubes in Texas under control, and thus might endorse Romney).
All of which means that going into Super Tuesday the race still pretty much shapes up the way I originally thought it would: Mitt Romney is the Establishment, heavily monied candidate waging a battle against Newt Gingrich, who excites the Republican Crazies. This is still a battle to see who controls the Republican Asylum: the Crazies, or the Orderlies.
ADDENDUM. One final thing. It will be interesting to see how effective money continues to be in this contest. Although David Weigel suggests that Romney actually spent far less than Newt in the weeks leading up to last night's caucus votes, that calculation does not include the millions of dollars in negative ads launched against Gingrich by Romney-supporting anonymous Super PACs, freed after the Citizens United decision to spend as much money as they want.
The conventional wisdom is that it was this relentless negative onslaught that drove Gingrich into the ground. Romney certainly is the Big Money Boyz candidate, but I think the Republican base views him with a sheer loathing that our political pundits just cannot grasp. If Romney’s Super PACs can continue to do to Newt what they did to him last night, the 1% will know that it finally has in the Republican Party exactly what they’ve always wanted: a political party that they can just flat-out buy.
Cross-posted at Casa Cognito.